...Views from mid-Atlantic
20 January 2007

Another UN scandal's brewing over allegations that the UN Development Program has been handing over millions of dollars in cash to North Korea without taking the slightest notice of how it was spent. The Houston Chronicle (and many others) reports that "Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon responded quickly to US accusations that the UN development agency funneled millions of dollars in cash aid to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, calling on all UN funds and programs to conduct an urgent outside investigation into their operations. Ban's decision to press for outside audits not only of the UN Development Program's activities in North Korea, but of all UN programs, indicated he was determined to avoid a repetition of the scandal over the UN oil-for-food program in Iraq which bubbled for months before former Secretary-General Kofi Annan agreed to an independent investigation.

"US officials questioned whether funds intended to help the country's impoverished people had been used for other activities including nuclear weapons development."

Meantime, the Washington Times, reports that the UNDP has moved swiftly to limit damage by announcing new operating procedures.

"The UNDP said it will no longer pay North Korean suppliers and employees in hard currency after March 1, and will no longer allow the North Korean government to hire its in-country staff. It also said it will put into place improved monitoring and auditing of funds."

The whistle was blown by Mark Wallace, a management and budget analyst at the US Mission to the United Nations, who charged, in a recent letter to UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis, that his agency had "for years operated in blatant violation of UN rules (and) served as a steady and large source of hard currency and other resources for the [North Korean] government with minimal or no assurance that UNDP funds and resources are utilized for legitimate development activities."

Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader in Lebanon, made a big mistake with his never-ending public protest on the square in Beirut. It hasn't worked.

The Siniora government continues to function, if a little irritably. Hezbollah supporters are getting bored. They're going home on weekends, leaving a largely empty tent city behind them. Few support his calls for strikes. The world's press is beginning to tire of it - even the BBC, which a couple of weekends ago cut down one of those 'exclusive film opportunities' to the shortest, most pointless, piece of news film I've ever seen. A threat by Nasrallah a couple of days ago to block roads seems to have been dropped, after the Lebanese security forces said they'd break up any road blocks.

But he keeps at it: The Globe and Mail (among others) reports on one of his recent threats: "Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah promised Friday that his opposition alliance would intensify its campaign to bring down the government, pledging to mount an 'effective' action in the coming days...

"'I believe this action will be effective, very important and very big,' he said. He would not divulge the plan but urged all Lebanese to support it."

And Naharnet News Desk carries another: "The Hizbullah-led opposition and the General Federation of Labor Unions called for a one-day general strike on Tuesday to keep up their pressure against Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government.
However, sources told Naharnet that leaders of the Economic Committees will meet over the weekend to denounce the strike 'which will inflict damage and losses to the economy' and are likely to announce Tuesday 'a normal working day.'"

Makes it plain that the forces which won the Israeli invasion for Hezbollah were Israeli, doesn't it?

For American readers, this is a useful list, compiled by the New York Times, of ways of preventing a miscellany of pests from pestering: "A consumer can now opt out of the standard practice of their banks or loan companies selling their information to others. Other opt-outs stop credit card companies from soliciting consumers or end the flow of junk mail and catalogs. 'Over the years, it has gotten so much easier to opt out,' said Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a public interest group that lobbies Congress on privacy issues.'"

19 January 2007

Now, this is a toy whose time has come. On the market soon (they say the price is going to be "less than $10,000") is a fuel-cell powered motorcycle, designed and built by a British firm, Intelligent Energy. Wired News says: "...Engineers had largely dismissed an environmentally friendly two-wheeler as impractical. That was until Britain's Intelligent Energy created the ENV, the first road-worthy hydrogen-powered motorcycle. The vehicle runs on a removable fuel cell, emits almost nothing, and will be street legal. The only drag? Top speed, for now, is 50 mph. Production versions go on sale later this year. Head out on the highway on this eco-machine."

It emits water instead of exhaust gas, has enough torque to make a Ferrari eat dust (OK, that may be me thinking wishfully) and weighs 178 pounds.

There's more here, but be warned that the sites aren't yet working perfectly.

Emmett Tyrell ruminates on the ailing Fidel Castro in the Washington Times this morning: "In these last months of Fidel Castro's moribundity, there is delicious irony in the film clip of him repeatedly shown on cable television. Wearing a clownishly incongruous jogging suit, the fabled maestro of revolution and progress is filmed shuffling metronomically, gray and feeble, blank-faced, and apparently going no place.

"Maybe he is on a treadmill that we cannot see. Maybe he is merely picking up his tired feet and putting them back down with no forward motion. Possibly this whole idiotic scene is a fabrication created by our CIA. Well, if so, it is a job well done. There is poetry here.

"The cadaverish dictator shuffling in place is a perfect metaphoric rendering of Mr. Castro's Cuba over these many decades. He took his country from prosperity and a place at the head of Latin America in material terms to the bottom. In practically every material measure his country is a slum. In terms of freedom, it is one vast jail."

In its review of sports journalist Jeremy Schaap's new book, Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics the Jewish Daily Forward says the story that Hitler snubbed Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics may well not be true. "American newspaper accounts filed by onsite journalists reported that Owens and Hitler exchanged waves after Owens won the 100-meter dash. Of course, the Nazi leader didn't welcome Owens in his box, as he did some of the early 'Aryan' winners. By the time Owens won the 100-meter, international Olympic officials had told Hitler not to honor any gold medalists that way, because Hitler left the Olympic stadium before greeting Cornelius Johnson, an earlier US black gold medalist. 'Hitler didn't receive Owens, but he did not snub him -at least, that's not how Hitler's actions were reported by eyewitnesses,' or by Owens at the time, Schaap writes."

It's odd that there doesn't seem to be the outrage in Britain about Tony Blair preventing the police from investigating corruption at BAE that there is elsewhere in the world. Perhaps it's a question of becoming inured to sleazy behaviour from New Labour. But even the United States had a go at them when the OECD discussed it yesterday. The Guardian reports that the OECD, which enforces an international treaty to stamp out the payment of bribes to win contracts, severely criticised the British Government.

"The public expression of 'serious concern' came after Tony Blair claimed this week that Britain had done more than any other country in recent years to root out international corruption. He has taken responsibility for the controversial decision to terminate the Serious Fraud Office's inquiry into allegations that BAE paid bribes to Saudi royals...

"Britain has been given two months to provide further explanations before the group decides what to do. The other countries could "name and shame" Britain for breaking the convention. Officials from America and France were prominent in pressing for firm action against Britain. It is understood that Britain was able to rally only limited support from other countries during the closed meeting in Paris."

18 January 2007

British chancellor of the exchequer Gordon Brown is often called a gifted economist - the best Britain's ever had in that office. But with the British press being what it is, all those not in the immediate vicinity ever hear about is his mistakes. So it's a treat to read coverage of a speech he made in India (this is the Guardian's version) that does sound as if it was made by someone with a little more on the ball than the average politician: "Urgent and far-reaching reform of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the G7 is needed to make old-fashioned international institutions fit to cope with the 'seismic shifts' of globalisation, Gordon Brown said yesterday.

"The chancellor used a keynote speech in India to call for fast-growing developing countries to be given a far bigger role as he outlined what is likely to be a central theme of his premiership if, as expected, he replaces Tony Blair as prime minister. In his first major foray into foreign policy this year Mr Brown said the world had moved on since the UN, IMF and World Bank were created at the end of the second world war."

"The post-1945 system of international institutions, built for a world of sheltered economies and just 50 states, is not yet broken but - for a world of 200 states and an open globalisation - urgently in need of modernisation and reform."

The London Times certainly agrees with him - "Mr Brown made a forceful case for the deeply unfashionable cause of globalisation. He was right to be unambiguous in his defence of its vast capacity to alleviate human poverty throughout the planet. Critics of freer trade like to portray themselves as the protectors of those who have to live on the smallest incomes. Yet if they could abandon their instinctive hostility to capitalism and were to look at the transformation that is taking place in Asia, they might realise that for all their assumed sophistication they harbour ignorant prejudices on a scale not dissimilar to those fools currently featured on Celebrity Big Brother."

If you don't know about those fools (and Good Grief, etc etc) on Celebrity Big Brother, you can catch up by reading this Telegraph story. That's the darker side of globalisation.

"Last Wednesday, President Bush gave his address to the country about 'the new way forward' for Iraq, and lots of journalists - including me, of course - were in Washington to cover it. But before the Big Speech, there was the little-known Big Meeting.

"And yet, the meeting was a little disconcerting as well. As I was looking at my colleagues around the room - Charlie Gibson, George Stephanopoulos, Brian Williams, Tim Russert, Bob Schieffer, Wolf Blitzer, and Brit Hume - I couldn't help but notice, despite how far we've come, that I was still the only woman there. Well, there was some female support staff near the door. But of the people at the table, the 'principals' in the meeting, I was the only one wearing a skirt. Everyone was gracious, though the jocular atmosphere was palpable."

Surprise, surprise! That was not Nancy Drew channelling Squirrel Nutkin, it was Katie Couric as herself, writing for her CBS News page.

The Guardian's Patrick Barkham writes in praise of the fledgling British poet Daljit Nagra: "'Puts Keats to shame' and 'A wonder to behold' are not bad verdicts for the first ever review of your debut volume of poetry. And this five-star critique gets better. 'If you enjoy poetry, genius, or PURE UNRIVALLED QUALITY of any kind,' runs the customer review on Amazon, 'buy this 21st-century bible of poetry and bask in the teachings of The Nagrameister.'

"Sadly for Daljit Nagra, the reviewer is one of the sixth-form students at JFS school, where he works in north-west London."

"Nagra is that rare thing: an unknown poet whose debut collection is being published by Faber, Britain's leading poetry house. The English teacher's pupils are baffled by his continued presence in class. "They think, 'What are you doing in school if you are a poet and you've got a book coming out?' They assume you're going to earn millions because it's a book," he says. Nagra is still as penniless as any poet, though he could soon become better known than many."

Interesting. This is a poem of his that won the Best Single Poem award in 2004. given by the Forward Arts Foundation.

Look we have coming to Dover!

So various, so beautiful, so new ...
Arnold, Dover Beach

Stowed in the sea to invade
the lash alfresco of a diesel-breeze
ratcheting speed into the tide with brunt
gobfuls of surf phlegmed by the cushy
come-and-go tourists prow'd on the cruisers, lording the waves.

Seagull and shoal life bletching
vexed blarnies at our camouflage past
the vast crumble of scummed cliffs.
Thunder in its bluster unbladdering yobbish
rain and wind on our escape, hutched in a Bedford van.

Seasons or years we reap
inland, unclocked by the national eye
or a stab in the back, teemed for breathing
sweeps of grass through the whistling asthma
of parks, burdened, hushed, poling sparks across pylon and pylon.

Swarms of us, grafting
in the black within shot of the moon's spotlight,
banking on the miracle of sun to span
its rainbow, passport us to life. Only then
can it be human to bare-faced, hoick ourselves for the clear.

Imagine my love and I,
and our sundry others, blared in the cash
of our beeswax'd cars, our crash clothes,
free, as we sip from an unparasol'd table
babbling our lingoes, flecked by the chalk of Britannia.


"The top 10% of the intelligence distribution has a huge influence on whether our economy is vital or stagnant, our culture healthy or sick, our institutions secure or endangered. Of the simple truths about intelligence and its relationship to education, this is the most important and least acknowledged: Our future depends crucially on how we educate the next generation of people gifted with unusually high intelligence, says Charles Murray in the third and final part of his Wall Street Journal series on education.

Yet, "how assiduously does our federal government work to see that this precious raw material is properly developed? In 2006, the Department of Education spent about $84 billion. The only program to improve the education of the gifted got $9.6 million, one-hundredth of 1% of expenditures. In the 2007 budget, President Bush zeroed it out."

Murray says his articles are not intended to win an argument, but "to begin a discussion; not to present policy prescriptions, but to plead for greater realism in our outlook on education. Accept that some children will be left behind other children because of intellectual limitations, and think about what kind of education will give them the greatest chance for a fulfilling life nonetheless. Stop telling children that they need to go to college to be successful, and take advantage of the other, often better ways in which people can develop their talents. Acknowledge the existence and importance of high intellectual ability, and think about how best to nurture the children who possess it."

17 January 2007

The Washington Times says Hugo Chavez is a tyrant-in-the-making: "It is not often we have the opportunity to watch a dictatorship being established. But few question this is now under way in Venezuela.

"Following his 2006 re-election, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has made no secret of his intention to remove whatever remaining restraints exist upon his power. Mr. Chavez has asked, for example, for constitutional changes eliminating term-limits on the presidency. He also wants to abolish the central bank's independence as part of his socialist Venezuela agenda.

"Mr. Chavez also intends to ask Venezuela's legislature - controlled by his allies - for the power to impose several 'revolutionary laws' by decree. This proposal will remind those conscious of historical analogies of the infamous 'Enabling Act' passed by Germany's Reichstag in 1933, establishing the legal foundations for the National Socialist dictatorship.

"No one seeking to build socialism, however, has ever been content with totally controlling the state apparatus. Invariably their attention turns to other spheres of society. For several years, Mr. Chavez has been reducing the size and independence of Venezuela's private sector, most recently by nationalizing power and telecommunications companies. He has also stated his intention to close private media outlets critical of his policies."

Ban-ki Moon is pledging to reform the UN - the Washington Times quotes him as having said yesterday: "The United Nations should change with much more efficiency and effectiveness and mobility, and highest level of ethical standard. I'm very much committed to carrying out this reform and I need strong support of all member states and staff of the United Nations in carrying these reform measures."

It's ironic, though, that on the same day, a close relative of a former secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Geneva-based businessman Ephraim Nadler, was indicted by New York and federal authorities on charges related to the oil-for-food scandal, along with the program's director, Benon Sevan.

The New York Sun reported that "The indictments represent a new stage in an ongoing criminal probe in which 14 Turtle Bay officials and business associates have already been charged, convicted, or pleaded guilty, as prosecutors work to bring to justice those involved in the largest corruption scandal in Turtle Bay's history.

"However, it was not clear yesterday whether the two alleged coconspirators, who have stayed away from America since the Paul Volcker committee detailed their alleged wrongdoings in mid-2005, would even bother to put up a defense."

Legislation prepared by the Senate Finance Committee, bent on cracking down on executive pay, contains a provision that would impose penalties on companies that incorporated in Bermuda for tax-avoidance reasons between March 2002 and March 2003; it would also penalize Americans who renounce their citizenship for tax reasons, Bloomberg says.

The provision was included in a preliminary draft of legislation that was posted on the panel's Web site yesterday. Carol Guthrie, a committee spokeswoman, said the document was released 'prematurely' and that the bill could be changed before the committee met today.

Senior Israeli Defence Force General Staff officers have welcomed Dan Halutz's decision to resign, saying it was necessary in view of what had come to light regarding the IDF's wartime functioning. One of the military inquiries into the IDF's conduct of the war made what is, in military terms, a damning accusation against him - that he had set no clear objective for troops who invaded Lebanon. In a sense, then, he had made the action impossible to win.

As Haaretz notes in its lead story this morning, Halutz's resignation has suddenly put pressure on both the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister to resign, as well: "As news of Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz's resignation emerged Wednesday, Knesset members from across the political spectrum called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz to step down from their positions as well.

"'The political echelon is not innocent of errors. There were failures, oversights by the political echelon,'" one member of Knesset said. That Halutz submitted his resignation to Ehud Olmert, instead of to his boss, the labour leader (and military amateur) Amir Peretz, is an indication that he thinks Peretz should be the next to go.

Halutz was appointed to the post by Ariel Sharon, to replace Lt. Gen Moshe Yaalon, who he had had to sack for opposing the summer 2005 evacuation of Israeli communities from the Gaza Strip. It may be that Sharon wanted someone at the head of the IDF who would carry out his instructions without question, and so chose an Air Force officer who was hardly likely to argue with him about strategy. That would have been convenient as long as Sharon was around, but when his illness took him from the fray, it became a fatally dangerous arrangement, because neither Olmert nor Peretz had a clue about strategy.

In the second part of his series of three articles on what's wrong with education (see yesterday's posts for the first) author Charles Murray says there are too many people in universities who are not intellectually capable of absorbing a university education. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, he says: "There is no magic point at which a genuine college-level education becomes an option, but anything below an IQ of 110 is problematic. If you want to do well, you should have an IQ of 115 or higher. Put another way, it makes sense for only about 15% of the population, 25% if one stretches it, to get a college education. And yet more than 45% of recent high school graduates enroll in four-year colleges. Adjust that percentage to account for high-school dropouts, and more than 40% of all persons in their late teens are trying to go to a four-year college - enough people to absorb everyone down through an IQ of 104.

"No data that I have been able to find tell us what proportion of those students really want four years of college-level courses, but it is safe to say that few people who are intellectually unqualified yearn for the experience, any more than someone who is athletically unqualified for a college varsity wants to have his shortcomings exposed at practice every day. They are in college to improve their chances of making a good living. What they really need is vocational training. But nobody will say so, because 'vocational training' is second class. 'College' is first class."

16 January 2007

The decision of the British Government some weeks ago to stop a police enquiry into corruption allegations against the arms firm, BAE Systems, on the grounds that it was endangering Britain's national interest, was extraordinary. Britain's Attorney General said, at the time: "The prime minister and the foreign and defence secretaries have expressed the clear view that continuation of the investigation would cause serious damage to UK/Saudi security, intelligence and diplomatic cooperation, which is likely to have seriously negative consequences for the UK public interest in terms of both national security and our highest priority foreign policy objectives in the Middle East." Lord Goldsmith was at pains to say that it had nothing to do with commercial interests.

It seems he might have been badly briefed by Tony Blair and his Cabinet. The Guardian is reporting today that all that stuff about security was, essentially, codswollop.

The paper says: "The OECD has demanded an explanation of the government's decision to abruptly close down an inquiry which was investigating secret payments made to Saudi royals... As part of the government's preparations to provide a justification to the OECD, MI6 was asked to sign up to a dossier which made the claim that MI6 'endorsed' Mr Blair's national security claim, according to those who have seen it.

"When it was sent to MI6 headquarters last week, Mr Scarlett, refused. Officials made it clear there were 'differences' between the intelligence agencies and the government over the language used by Lord Goldsmith. A source said that Lord Goldsmith's claims to parliament in December 'contained quite a degree of conjecture'. One official said there was 'nothing to suggest' that the Saudis had actually warned 'if you continue with this inquiry, we will cut off intelligence'."

I'd say this has the power to bring Blair's Government down.

What the Los Angeles Times is already calling "one of the most remarkable trials in Washington in years" gets under way today, as White House aide Scooter Libby is charged with lying to a grand jury.

"Expected to last six weeks, the trial is likely to provide a glimpse into how the White House responded to critics of its Iraq war policies. It will also include testimony from (Vice-President Dick) Cheney, marking the first time that a vice president has appeared in a criminal trial."

If you're intending to follow it, The New York Sun's Josh Gerstein has written what he describes as "a comprehensive spectator's guide to a legal drama that involves the White House, the CIA, and the press."

A new book about TS Eliot by the British poet, Craig Raine, gives us, according to this New York Times review, "a new, more accessible Eliot, an Eliot he describes as a virtuosic fox in terms of style, and a single-minded hedgehog when it came to themes.

"The one great animating idea of Eliot's poetry, Mr. Raine persuasively argues in these pages, is the theme of the 'buried life, the idea of a life not fully lived,' a life of missed opportunities, repressed passions, forsaken loves...Locating thematic links between masterworks like The Waste Land” and lesser-known works like Animula, Mr. Raine does a dexterous job of showing how Eliot developed the idea of the buried life."

This is by all accounts a fine book, but critics on both sides of the Atlantic have suggested Mr Raine marred it by using, as his final chapter, a defence of Eliot against charges of anti-Semitism. That is, in the circustances, a very difficult thing to manage, since Eliot quite obviously felt Jews were unpleasant.

Perhaps the mistake being made is the application of our present-day rejection of anti-Semitism to people who lived in a time when it was almost as common as a liking for Pink Gins.

The Wall Street Journal has begun today a three-part series of articles which suggest that searches for the causes of failing education systems must take into account the underlying intellectual ability of those being educated. It's written by Charles Murray, who is described as the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, but who is probably better known as the author of the controversial book about IQ, The Bell Curve.

He writes: "This is not to say that American public schools cannot be improved. Many of them, especially in large cities, are dreadful. But even the best schools under the best conditions cannot repeal the limits on achievement set by limits on intelligence.

"To say that even a perfect education system is not going to make much difference in the performance of children in the lower half of the distribution understandably grates. But the easy retorts do not work. It's no use coming up with the example of a child who was getting Ds in school, met an inspiring teacher, and went on to become an astrophysicist. That is an underachievement story, not the story of someone at the 49th percentile of intelligence.

"It's no use to cite the differences in test scores between public schools and private ones - for students in the bottom half of the distribution, the differences are real but modest. It's no use to say that IQ scores can be wrong. I am not talking about scores on specific tests, but about a student's underlying intellectual ability, g, whether or not it has been measured with a test. And it's no use to say that there's no such thing as g...

"I am among the most emphatic of those who think that the importance of IQ in living a good life is vastly overrated. My point is just this: It is true that many social and economic problems are disproportionately found among people with little education, but the culprit for their educational deficit is often low intelligence. Refusing to come to grips with that reality has produced policies that have been ineffectual at best and damaging at worst."

15 January 2007

Turtle Bay watcher Benny Avni of the New York Sun says Ban Ki-moon is making little headway against the UN's "intractable bureaucratic machine" in the matter of which boy gets which job.

"Several insiders from Kofi Annan's heyday have already been named to key positions, while others are closing in on high-profile jobs. The former UN humanitarian coordinator, Jan Egeland of Norway, is being considered for an appointment as Mr Ban's wandering troubleshooter, mediating disputes in the world's hotspots.

"Mr. Egeland is an energetic, press-friendly, aggressive dogooder - a UN evangelist who strongly believes that Turtle Bay needs to reform the world, rather than the other way around.

"He is also a chartered member of Mr Annan's inner circle and has constantly butted heads with Washington. It was Mr. Egeland who called the American people 'stingy' at a time when 'oil for food' and 'graft' emerged as the top terms that most of them associated with the United Nations. The new UN chief, who has wanted to surround himself with 'team players', risks hiring a loose cannon who has never met a microphone that he did not like."

Forget the Spanish Inquisition, forget fundamentalists, forget creationists...here's some bird-brainery that puts the whole cacaphony of the world's nitwits to shame, in the shade. The New York Sun rips the veil (a thousand apologies) from the face of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the group of senior Islamic clergy that reigns supreme on all legal, civil, and governance matters in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

They are, in their wisdom, banning the use of the letter X, because it looks like a cross.

"The commission's damning of the letter 'X' came in response to a Ministry of Trade query about whether it should grant trademark protection to a Saudi businessman for a new service carrying the English name 'Explorer'...their experts who examined the English word 'explorer' were struck by how suspicious that "X" appeared. In a kingdom where Friday preachers routinely refer to Christians as pigs and infidel crusaders, even a twisted cross ranks as an abomination...

"Among the commission's deeds is the famed 1974 fatwa - issued by its blind leader at the time, Sheik Abdul Aziz Ben Baz - which declared that the Earth was flat and immobile. In a book issued by the Islamic University of Medina, the sheik argued: 'If the earth is rotating, as they claim, the countries, the mountains, the trees, the rivers, and the oceans will have no bottom.'

"Another bright light of the commission, Sheik Abdel-Aziz al-Sheikh, recently stopped a government reform proposal aimed at creating work for women by allowing them to replace male sales clerks in women's clothing stores. Sheik al-Sheikh damned the idea, saying it was a step 'towards immorality and hellfire'. The underlying logic is breathtaking: Women are more protected by buying their knickers from men! Over the years, the commission has rendered Saudi Arabia a true kingdom of darkness. Movie theaters are banned, as are sculptures, paintings, music, and the mixing of sexes in public."

You have to hand it to Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was a pretty odd candidate for Governor of California in the first place, even in Ronald Reagan country. And he had the hardest of all political lessons to learn when he got his feet under the desk - being right ain't the half of it. But on the job, he learned really quickly. And now, even though the LA Times is really trying to make another point altogether, it is talking, without a hint of a giggle, about Schwarzenegger as president of the country: "The Governor of the nation's largest state was reelected in a landslide in November, even though his Republican Party is a minority in California. He works with Democrats in a way that offers the rest of the country a model of much-needed bipartisanship. To kick off his second term, he has proposed the most ambitious healthcare and environmental reforms in the country, and he is also committed to a massive reconstruction of the state's infrastructure.

"Yet, oddly enough, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is not on the list of potential presidential candidates in 2008.

"Why? Because the founders were worried in the 18th century that our fledgling nation might go the way of Poland and be overtaken by a foreign monarchy. Hence the constitutional qualifier that only 'natural-born citizens' are eligible for the presidency of the United States."

14 January 2007

Today's the 40th Anniversary of the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The San Francisco Chronicle remembers: "There are a lot of myths about that day, and one truth: If you were there then, you are, like, old...The Be-In - unlike a teach-in, or a sit-in - was what Chronicle columnist Ralph J. Gleason called 'the greatest nonspecific mass meeting in years, perhaps ever.' There was no real point. It was a gathering of the tribes, the passing of the baton from the Beat Generation to the hippies. It was the winter before the Summer of Love. It just was."

And after the Rolling Stones sang Under My Thumb at Altamont in 1969, it wasn't any more.

John Bolton is making some acute observations about Ban-Ki Moon's first days in the driver's seat at Turtle Bay. Writing in the Washington Post, he says we've misunderstood what the Secretary General was up to when he declined to criticise the hanging of Saddam Hussein: "The real controversy here is not about the death penalty, but more fundamentally about the proper role of the United Nations itself, and especially of the secretary general. The United Nations as an institution cannot have a legitimate position on a domestic issue such as the death penalty when there is such fundamental disagreement among its sovereign members - and especially where democratically legitimate governments have different views. To say that the secretary general must mouth the position adopted by a majority of countries in some UN body, whether legitimately or not, is a prescription for endless trouble. Were earlier secretaries supposed to declare routinely that 'Zionism is a form of racism', as the General Assembly solemnly and overwhelmingly decided in 1975?

"According to the UN Charter, the secretary general is the institution's 'chief administrative officer' - not its chief moralizer. Those who complain that Ban's comment forfeited the role that Annan so ardently played should understand instead that Annan's proclivities were not ultimately helpful to the world body.

"If he had spent less time moralizing and more time doing his day job, the United Nations may have been spared the oil-for-food scandal, procurement fraud and widespread sexual exploitation and abuse by its peacekeepers."

American and British special forces have spent more than a year reconnoitering in Somalia, with a view especially to hunting down Al Quaeda terror suspects as they tried to flee the country, according to the Times of London. "The dramatic victory by Ethiopian troops was the culmination of months of preparation inside and outside Somalia by American and British special forces, and US-hired mercenaries. The 'professional assistance' was recruited by officials based in the US embassy in Nairobi at the end of 2005 as part of a deniable operation, sources claimed.

"'The brief was to enter Somali territory with the objective of studying the terrain, mapping and analysing landing sites and regrouping areas, and reporting on suitable entry and exit points,' one source said...

"An SAS team is in Somalia now, "hunting down Al-Qaeda terror suspects as they try to flee war-torn Somalia after the crushing defeat of the country's Islamist forces last week. The suspects are trapped between invading Ethiopian troops - assisted by US special forces and American mercenaries - and the Kenyan army and SAS troops who are acting as 'training advisers' but have been leading operations along the border, providing a 'screen' to trap terrorists."

London's Telegraph didn't like what Gordon Brown said about secession either (see below): "Gordon Brown wrote some stirring words on Saturday about the need to preserve the United Kingdom. What he failed to mention was that his party has done more than even the Scottish National Party to break up the Union. By forcing through legislation giving Scotland and Wales devolved parliaments, Labour has left the English electorate angry and resentful that Scottish and Welsh MPs still sit in Westminster, determining what will become law in England. Furthermore, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Brown has handed Scotland far more than its fair share of the UK's tax receipts, thereby fuelling the suspicion that 'every Scot's first priority is to do down England'.

"Mr Brown's failure to acknowledge his and Labour's role in what he calls 'the dangerous drift in anti-Union sentiment today' was astonishing, since one of the first things he and his party did when elected in 1997 was to 'play fast and loose with the Union and abandon national purpose to focus on what divides' (his words for those who now point out the unresolved unfairnesses inherent in devolution).

"The inability of ministers to take responsibility for the consequences of their own policies is, however, the salient characteristic of the present Government. In a speech the day before Gordon Brown insisted on the importance of 'Britishness', Tony Blair lamented the low level of spending on the Armed Forces, which is to blame for British soldiers going to war without proper equipment, and he highlighted the problems inherent in the use of force to remove or transform foreign regimes. Mr Blair seemed to have forgotten that he was Prime Minister when all the relevant decisions were made. If those decisions have turned out disastrously, there is only one person Mr Blair can blame: himself. Yet there is never any hint of self-criticism, never the slightest acceptance of blame. The result is his pathetic search for other, imaginary scapegoats for his own failures of the past decade."


Art in Bermuda
Bermuda's Cuban Connection
Death of the Nation State
Helen Lives!
Joe Wilson and Michael Moore
Linton Kwesi Johnson's Dub Poetry
Me and Evergreen Review
Michael Howard's Vision
Miss Lou and Jamaican Patois
More Doomsday Nonsense
Mullah Nasrudin's Lessons
New York Dogs
OECD's Unfair to Competition
On Catullus
On Charles Ives
On Colin MacInnes
On Collecting Books
On Collecting Books - Part Two
On Gambling in Bermuda
On Napoleon
On Patrick Leigh Fermor
Race and Bermuda's Election
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Gift of Slang
The Limits of Knowledge
The Nature of Intelligence
The Shared European Dream
The US Supreme Court's First Terrorism Decisions
Useful Yiddish
Yukio Mishima's Death

Article Archive

2003 Index


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Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
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Aworks :: "new" american classical music
Brad DeLong
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Day by Day by Chris Muir
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Kesher Talk
Little Green Footballs
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Michael J Totten
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Reflections in d minor
Roger L Simon
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